Taxpayers forking out for arms deal inquiry costs are ‘sponsoring their own robbery’ – EFF

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South Africans must ask why now-retired Judge Willie Seriti, and/or those who appointed him, are not being asked to pay personal costs after the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria set aside the findings of the arms deal commission of inquiry, the EFF said on Wednesday.

“This is because it must be a double insult to expect South African taxpayers, who have already forked out about R150m to pay for the commission, to now also pay for legal costs,” the party said in a statement.

“This would amount to South African taxpayers sponsoring their own robbery.”

Handing down judgment on Wednesday, Judge President Dunstan Mlambo said that it was clear that the commission had failed to inquire fully into the matters that it had to investigate. 

“The questions posed to the witnesses were hardly the questions of an evidence leader seeking to determine the truth,” Mlambo said. 

No attempt was made to confront controversial businessman Fana Hlongwane’s witness statement, which, Mlambo said, left out key information concerning payments made to him.

Mlambo said the court was fortified in its view that the inquiry the commission was called upon to undertake had “never materialised”.

Read: Ruling on arms deal shows that rule of law still prevails – De Lille

He said the key failure to test evidence of important witnesses, and a refusal to take account of documentary evidence which contains the most serious allegations that were important to the inquiry, meant the findings of the Seriti commission must be set aside.

The commission, set up in 2011 by former president Jacob Zuma and chaired by Seriti, found no evidence of corruption in the deal, in which the SA government entered into contracts with several European defence companies in 1999.

South Africa bought sophisticated military equipment to the tune of R30bn.

The commission did not hold anyone accountable, finding that there was no undue influence in the selection of bidders.

The EFF said the major irregularities identified in this instance were far worse and more costly than the ABSA and Estina Dairy court reviews involving the Public Protector.

“It cannot be that the Public Protector is directed to pay personal costs, yet those in the Seriti Commission, who ‘deliberately’ failed to perform their mandate, are absolved from doing so,” it said.

“We have therefore instructed our lawyers to look into whether it will be possible or advisable to approach the courts to protect the rights of the public, by demanding consistency on the part of our judiciary.”

Analysis: Arms deal judgment unlikely to reopen Mbeki-era prosecutions

The Thabo Mbeki Foundation said on Wednesday that the judgment spoke to the commission’s handling of evidence presented before it on the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (SDPP) and not the merits of the allegations of corruption made over the years.

“In this regard, the Foundation stands by the evidence submitted by our Patron, President Thabo Mbeki, to the Commission, whose essence is that the decisions of the Cabinet Inter-Ministerial Committee which processed the SDPP were free from corruption,” said spokesperson Siyabulela Gebe.

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